What is GA4, and What Does it Mean for your Business?

July 18, 2022

Whether you’re savvy with Google Analytics yourself, or you’ve delegated your website analysis, it’s important to understand how Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will affect your website reporting. GA4 is a new version of Google Analytics that launched in October 2021 in anticipation of the previous version (Universal Analytics) being discontinued in July 2023. If you’re wondering why this matters, it’s because when Google sunsets the former platform next summer, all your historical website data will be erased. So, if you haven’t already transitioned your analytics to GA4, we’ve got the cliff’s notes on what’s changing, why it’s important and what to do now to be ready for next year. And yes, you need to get ready now… don’t let it sneak up on you.

What is Different in GA4?

  •  Say “Goodbye” to Old Data

    As of July 2023, Universal Analytics (UA) will quit collecting data on your site and you will have access to your historical data for only six months thereafter. That’s why Google recommends you do a backup of at least fourteen months’ worth of data before July 2023. So, if you’re wanting to compare site engagement during an annual promotional campaign to data from years past, you’ll want to make sure you have those backups. (Instructions on backing up data can be found here.)

  • Tracking Traffic Differently

    Universal Analytics tracks traffic by session. In other words, if I come to your website by clicking on a social post, then go to another website to check my email, but come back to your site by typing in your web address in the URL, those site visits are counted as two separate sessions. GA4 uses “event-based” tracking. In GA4, those two website visits would be combined into one session with separate events. This means your session numbers will look much lower, but inevitably your engagement rates will be much higher. This presents a challenge in comparing data between UA and GA4. They are like comparing apples to oranges. That’s why it’s recommended you go ahead and start using GA4 Google Analytics alongside Universal Analytics for the next year to generate side-by-side reports. This gives you and your team the chance to learn how to interpret the data for an entire year before relying solely on the new platform.

  • Customer Journey Intel

    Event tracking in GA4 is also going to give us a much better picture of the user experience and customer journey while on our sites. There are various types of events that will be tracked. Each tells part of the overall story of how a user got to your website and what they did once they got there.

    • Automatically Tracked Events

      To make things easier, Google set up GA4 to track things like clicks, downloads, first visit to a web page, page scroll and so on. These are extremely useful and the fact that you don’t have to have your web developer add various tags on numerous pages throughout your site to capture these more standard events is a time and money saver.

    • Enhanced Measurement Events

      If you want to take tracking further, with GA4, you can. There are enhanced measurements. For example, you can track more than a page scroll, like the percentage of the page that was scrolled. These give a more complete picture of the customer experience.

    • Recommended Events

      Google has listed some suggested events for businesses or organizations based on common website needs for specific verticals. For instance, e-commerce sites have a list of recommended events like “add-to-cart” and “refund” or “generate lead.” These recommendations can be found in the events report.

    • Custom Events

      Despite the upgrade in pre-established event tracking that Google is introducing, you still might want to track something unique and Google still allows this within custom events. For instance, if you want to track when a person makes a “donation” to your organization, which is different than a standard e-commerce purchase, that would require a custom event. Visit here to learn how to set up custom events.

  • Ramped Up Security

    With online security and personal privacy concerns, GA4 makes it easier to stay in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). With GA4, IP addresses are anonymous (called IP Masking), relying on artificial intelligence (IA) to infer geography and context based on past behavior. While IP Masking is an opt-in feature in Universal Analytics, it’s now mandatory with GA4.

  • App and Web in One

    A big advantage of GA4 is the consolidation of analytics profiles. If you have an app and a website, in Universal Analytics, you have to track them separately. In GA4, they are tracked together. So, if someone clicks from your site to your app and then buys something, that entire customer journey is tracked within one analytics profile.

Why does the Google Analytics Change Matter to Your Business?

You may wonder why any of these changes matter. The truth is, if you don’t consider your website a part of your marketing strategy, then this really won’t change much for you. However, if you rely on your site to play a role in gaining new customers, leads or sales, the switch to GA4 is critical. Understanding who comes to your website, how they get there and how they engage with your site are all important steps in assessing how well your website supports your goals.

What Do You Need to Do Now?

  1. Your next steps should include setting up your GA4 account alongside your current Universal Analytics account. Thankfully, the initial setup for GA4 isn’t too complicated. It’s only taken us a few minutes to do this for each of our customers. There might be a little more time to set up any custom events if you require those to track what you need. Otherwise, you can connect GA4 to your Google Ads and Tag Manager accounts seamlessly. You can find complete instructions here.
  2. Next, you will want to download backups of your data (instructions here).
  3. Be sure to finish migrating your conversion goals and set up event tracking and audience groups.
  4. Finally, play around with the reporting templates and see how the new platform shows insights compared to Universal Analytics reporting.

If you need help transitioning to GA4 or setting up custom reports, or want an independent review of your website and its current state of performance and tracking setup, contact us today.